Overcoming The Power Structures Of This Present Age
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Jesus of nazareth
A few weeks back I, along with others, got to help curate a week of prayer for my spiritual community. We walked people through the stages of Isaiah 55, The Lords Prayer, intercession for the community and a reflection on the seeds of heaven placed within us all as individuals and as a community. Part of this week included a building lined with long rolls of thick brown drawing paper and small piles of coloured pastels. By the end of the week we had four pages, two walls and close to 50 pegs full of prayers the needs and longings of our people.
What I came to realise as I read over all those prayers and soaked in the deepest longings of our community was that so many were reaching for God through the muddiness of a turmoltuous inner life.
These prayers were full of longing, full of self-awareness, full of weakness and as I read through these beautiful petitions of these friends I love I felt acutely aware that we are really a community that is poor in spirit.
The funny thing about being poor in spirit is that even though Jesus taught it as one of his highest values, people who are poor in spirit don't often feel as though they have much to offer. They imagine that in order to be effective in love, in order for them to be able to give to others that they must reverse this disposition first. As if there's something wrong with being weak before God or feeling unable to make the task ahead. But on the Mount, before the sickest and weakest of the lot, we find Jesus denying us the right to the temptation of perfection and turning the tables on the popular power structures of this present age.
Western culture teaches us the opposite.
It favors the self-assured, those who have it 'together", people who can put themselves out there and make their own way. We elevate those that speak well of themselves and live in a perpetual state of confidence (or at least the illusion of it). Our hero's are self made, positive thinkers, masters of self-motivation. In this world people make it to the top when they push hard and fight for it.
What Jesus is suggesting here is that kingdom of heaven could be entirely the opposite.
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."
- Philippians 2:5-7
In God's currency weakness is strength, humility is maturity, doubt is necessary and spiritual poverty is valiant. We can't make the mistake of believing that this is false humility though. The answer is not to seek suffering or to mope or celebrate trials. There is always a danger of the extremes on both sides of a truth. We know however that whatever is true of the beatitudes is true of Christ. So if he was fully God and man and was able to be poor in spirit then what does it actually mean?
Well, Christ associated himself with the lowly, the sick, the marginalised. His disposition was for those who considered themselves unable to be in God's presence. He allowed himself to feel their pain, to become poor on their behalf in order that they may became rich. He was anxious and depressed to death in the garden of Gethsemane and labeled "The Man of Sorrows" by the poet Isaiah. Jesus took on the form of a servant, even though he had every reason to be served as king. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey with a few weaponless disciples while Roman officials traditionally entered on war horses with masses of soldiers marching as their aide.
This strange way of being that Jesus demonstrated is exactly what it means to be poor in spirit.
So, if you feel empty, broken or lost for strength. If you're in the middle of a season of totally emotional insecurity, physical depletion or spiritual exile, then welcome to the kingdom of heaven. The humility wrought by your circumstance is your qualifier in the procession of saints and you've been considered worthy to be welcomed like Christ. You are not being sidelined, you're being formed and prepared for the front lines of gentle love and empathy.
We don't need to suffer to be christians, that's not at all what I am saying. But I am saying that our suffering helps us to find a poverty of spirit that this world is thirsty for. Because when we approach broken, hurt and weak humanity as broken, hurt and weak people ourselves, the compassion we embody speaks louder than the theology we tout.
Are you poor in spirit?
Welcome to the kingdom of heaven.